Pia Sundhage Named Head Coach of the U.S. Women's National Team
CHICAGO (November 13, 2007) – Pia Sundhage has been named the new head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, it was announced today by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. Sundhage, 47, brings an extensive and impressive resume to the position as both a player and coach, most recently as an assistant for the Chinese National Team during the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Sundhage has been hired to coach the U.S. team through 2008 and the Beijing Olympics, and will begin work immediately on preparation for Olympic qualifying. While final CONCACAF qualifying dates have not yet been announced, it is anticipated the tournament will take place early next year.
Sundhage (pronounced Soond-hahg-Eh) coached in the WUSA during all three years of its existence, serving as the top assistant for the Philadelphia Charge during the 2001and 2002 seasons before taking over as head coach of the Boston Breakers in 2003. She led the Breakers, a team that had not made the playoffs in its first two seasons, to the regular season championship and its first playoff berth.
“Pia is a highly accomplished player and coach with the vision to guide our Women’s National Team into this next phase,” said Gulati. “She brings a fresh perspective and a tremendous amount of experience to the job. She knows the international game and has a great track record of not only winning, but getting the most out of players and teams. We feel that she is a great fit for this team moving forward.”
One of the most respected coaches in the women’s game and widely regarded as one of the world’s all-time greatest female players during her international career that spanned 22 years, Sundhage becomes the sixth head coach in the history of a program that has compiled a record of 303-51-44 since its inception in 1985. She is the first foreign coach to take the helm of the U.S. team and second woman. This will not be her first assignment for U.S. Soccer. Sundhage served as a scout for the USA during the 2004 Olympics.
“Of course, I am very excited and happy that I have this opportunity,” said Sundhage. “I see myself as being a part of a group that wants to be challenged. In order to be successful, I do think it is important that the coaching staff and the players know that we create our own environment. We are the environment that brings out the best performances in each other. In coaching, it’s about communication, so feedback is important and that is something that will help improve our team as we develop the way we will play.”
Sundhage started her coaching career while still playing, serving as player-coach for the Hammarby club from 1992-1994. She also coached Sweden’s Youth National Teams for 11 years from 1990-2001, coaching the U-16s, the U-19s and U-21s. After her retirement from the international game in 1996, she became head coach of the Sweden Under-19 Women’s National Team, leading the team to one gold medal and two bronze medals at the European Championships. She has also served as a scout for Sweden during the 1997 European Championships, the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2000 Olympics. Sundhage has also worked for FIFA on its Technical Study Group staff for the 2004 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Championship in Thailand.
“When I started playing, I played with boys, and I wasn’t supposed to play because I was a girl,” said Sundhage. “Women’s soccer has evolved to the point where I played in the 1996 Olympics and 12 years later, I get this huge opportunity. It is a unique moment in many aspects, including U.S. Soccer hiring a foreigner. It takes brave people to make a change. If you want to make changes you have to be brave and like the situation, which I certainly do, moving to the USA to take on this responsibility and challenge while getting the chance to coach some of the best players in the world. I like that feeling.”
Sundhage played for a number of clubs in Sweden as her role on the field evolved over the years, although she played mostly as a forward, before moving to midfielder and then to sweeper. She started her club soccer career at age 11 with the women’s club Ulricehamn, as there were no girls teams at that time, playing with women as old as 30.
She then played with Falkoping KIK before moving to Jitex BK of Gothenburg where she played during three different stints in the 1980s. She won the Swedish Cup four times, twice with Jitex BK and twice with Hammarby, and the won the league title four times with Jitex BK. While playing with Osters in 1982 and 1983, she led the league in scoring with 30 and 35 goals, respectively. She had a brief stint with Lazio in Italy in 1985, helping the club to a second place finish in the league as she scored 17 goals. She played at Hammarby in 1986, then back to Jitex from 1987-89, but moved to Stockholm when she got the job with the Sweden Federation, and played at Hammarby from 1990-96.
After the WUSA ceased operations, Sundhage coached for one year in Norway at Kolbotn, one of that country’s top clubs, before returning to her native Sweden where she coached KIF Orebro in Sweden’s top division for two and half years. For several months in the spring 2005, U.S. veterans Kristine Lilly and Kate Markgraf, who played for her on the Breakers, played for her at Orebro.
A legendary player in Sweden, she played for her country in the 1991 and 1995 Women’s World Cups, and 1996 Olympics. She scored four goals for Sweden at the 1991 Women’s World Cup, helping the Swedes to a third-place finish. She scored one goal in the 1995 Women’s World Cup (against Germany) and played every minute of all three matches at the Atlanta Olympics.
She captained the national team for many years, playing 146 international games while scoring 71 goals, for years a record until recently matched by Sweden’s star forward Hanna Ljungberg. She debuted for Sweden at age 15 in 1975 against Finland and ended her 22-year international career at the 1996 Olympics in a win over Denmark. Sundhage led Sweden to the first European Women’s Championship in 1984, scoring the winning penalty kick against England to give her country to its only European title. She also helped Sweden to two silver medal finishes and one bronze at the European Women’s Championships.
During her international career, Sundhage played against the United States numerous times, including matches at the 1991 Women’s World Cup and in the 1996 Olympics. In 2000, she finished sixth in the voting for FIFA Women’s Player of the Century.
An accomplished guitar player and talented singer, Sundhage’s fame in Sweden reached new levels in the mid-1980s when her image was put on a postage stamp. A true women’s soccer pioneer who finished her schooling in the 1970s when European women’s soccer was still in its infancy, she held a variety of jobs, including working at a car wash and as a secretary before embarking on her prolific career in soccer. She holds the highest level of coaching license in Sweden.
Sundhage’s first games as head coach will come in January at the Four Nations Tournament in China, ironically the country she recently left after helping the 2007 Women’s World Cup hosts to the quarterfinals. With the Chinese National Team, Sundhage worked with then-head coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who was also Sweden’s head coach for years, including the entire time Sundhage coached the Sweden Youth National Teams. Dates and venues for the Four Nations have yet to be confirmed.
Sundhage is actually the fourth foreign-born coach in U.S. Women's National Team history, after the team's first coach Mike Ryan (who was born in Ireland but relocated to the United States in 1958 at age 23), Anson Dorrance (born in India) and Greg Ryan (born in Germany).
The U.S. Women’s National Team has won four world championships – two Women’s World Cup and two Olympics -- and finished in the top three in all eight women’s world championships staged by FIFA since the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, the only team in the world to medal in every tournament.